A foolproof way to make your passwords more secure

You probably know your memorized passwords aren’t secure, but old habits die hard. Here’s a cheap and easy alternative

 

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Laptop computer chained shut with padlocks
(Tim Robberts/Getty)

I have no idea what my email password is. Not a clue. I also couldn’t tell you what the passwords are for any of my social media accounts, my online banking account, or the cloud-based document storage service I use.

The reason this isn’t a problem is because my computer remembers all my passwords for me, using a “password vault” program. This little app generates long, random passwords for me whenever I make a new account, and automatically inserts the right one into the password box whenever I hit a login page. The string of “••••••••••••••••••••” just appears. It’s both more secure and way faster than typing the same few passwords dozens of times each day.

Short, easy-to-guess passwords are a modern scourge. Most of us know by now that password or 123456 aren’t good enough (and no, they aren’t), but the prospect of memorizing something like rZML_:\Cj['Pu/h2*{adW` and typing it multiple times per day is tiresome. Luckily, you don’t have to.

I use a service called LastPass, but there are plenty of others available, such as 1Password, KeePass, Dashlane, and Roboform. (Here’s a more in-depth comparison).

Here’s how it works: you install the password manager on your computer—most offer a mobile app for your phone or tablet too. The next time you log in to, for instance, LinkedIn, LastPass pops up to ask whether it should remember your details. Click “Yes” and the service stores your username and password in an encrypted database on your machine. (It also securely backs up the details to its own servers in case you drop your laptop in a puddle.) Every time you visit LinkedIn’s login page henceforth, your details will automatically be filled in. Just hit “Enter” and you’re done.

It’s a simple service, but its usefulness becomes clear as you add more and more accounts (I was surprised by how many passwords I’d accumulated over the years). And perhaps most importantly, once you’re comfortable handing password-recall duties over to your computer, you’ll start to make all those accounts more secure.

Since I no longer care what my passwords are, I set them to be extra long and totally randomized. I also use a unique password for every site, instead of the same one for service after service like I used to, which is one of the surest ways to have accounts compromised. (Since many people use the same basic passwords everywhere, a security breach at one site can give criminals access to any site for which you used the same combination.) Breaking that habit is much easier when the computer does the memorization.

A password manager is one of the rare services that increases both convenience and security. Most such services offer a free tier, but I’ve found it to be worth the price several times over. Do yourself a favour and give it a try—it makes your life easier, and hackers’ jobs harder. That’s worth remembering.

This story originally appeared on ProfitGuide.

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